Aristotle on the Nature of Friendship

One part of the investigations into human nature in the Nicomachean Ethics is the subject of friendship. Two whole books, Book Eight and Book Nine, are dedicated to analyses on this subject. Aristotle uses the Greek word philia for what we would call friendship. In Book Eight Aristotle proposes that there are three different types of friendship, each with corresponding circumstances that in a way determine each type. There are friendships based on utility, pleasure, and the good. If Aristotle’s goal in his investigations in the Nicomachean Ethics is to determine the best way to lead a good life, and to achieve eudaimonia, or human flourishing, then understanding what friendship is and in fact having good friends is a prerequisite for the acquisition of a life which may be called truly good.

This paper will analyze Aristotle’s arguments on the nature of friendship and will examine in what ways that friendship indeed is a component required for living a good life. Although it may appear from a reading of the Nicomachean Ethics that it may seem that only perfect or virtue friendship is the type of friendship that is worth pursuing, this paper will argue that all three types of friendships are worthy of pursuit. This argument is supported by Aristotle’s definition of friendship in the Rhetoric that states that friendship is a type of reciprocal well-wishing. This study will analyze Aristotle’s arguments for the three types of friendships and show how his distinctions are relevant to the modern world. This study will also propose that by understanding Aristotle’s distinctions one may achieve a clarity concerning human relations and that by practicing caution and moderation in the early stages of friendship will protect a virtuous person from the non-virtuous.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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